Membership is not all that important at our church, about a third of respondents to a recent Leadership Weekly poll said. While 38 percent said attenders were frequently urged to join, and 34 percent said the membership appeal was occasionally given, the remainder said their church placed little or no emphasis on membership. That trend, according to many experts, is a mistake, the costly result of a casual, come-as-you-are attitude.

The church should be less like a cruise ship and more like a battleship, says Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. Rather than emphasizing their casual atmosphere and fun activities, Sande says it's time for churches to raise the bar, to focus on a serious mission, and ensure that every person aboard serves a vital function. To make the shift, Sande says we must recapture the importance and meaning of church membership. If nothing else, emphasizing membership can protect the church from the growing threat of lawsuits.

Can you give an example of how deemphasizing membership can be perilous for a church?

I counseled a church where an attender used his relationships within the church to persuade people to invest over $2 million with him. The money was never returned to the investors. The church leadership struggled to respond because the man was not a member. If they said something publicly and warned the congregation about his actions, they risked a lawsuit for slander and defamation of character.

The church leaders finally asked the man to leave, but said nothing to the congregation. As a result he continued to scam people in the church for another year. When the victimized members discovered that church leaders knew about the man's actions but failed to publicly warn the congregation, they in turn ...

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